On June 9, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change held a remote hearing, “Pollution and Pandemics: COVID-19’s Disproportionate Impact on Environmental Justice Communities.” The Center for Progressive Reform, joined by Fair Farms, Sentinels of Eastern Shore Health (SESH), and the Sussex Health and Environmental Network submitted a fact sheet to subcommittee members outlining the impacts of COVID-19 on the Delmarva Peninsula, along with a number of recommendations for building a more sustainable model for the region.
The area is home to a massive poultry industry, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We addressed several of the most severe problems in our fact sheet, including the following.
Public Health Harms from 'Depopulation'
Because of pandemic-driven staffing shortages, approximately 2 million chickens in the region, likely more, have been killed without having been processed into consumer-ready meat. According to the industry, once the birds grow beyond a certain point, they cannot be readily processed by the region's slaughterhouses, so killing these birds with unspecified "humane" methods was the only practical alternative. The bodies of these "depopulated" birds, to use industry's term, have been left in the poultry houses where they were raised to decompose.
In recent weeks, as a result of cramped conditions and inadequate protections, several U.S. meat plants have closed due to coronavirus outbreaks among workers. In one particularly stunning instance, a Tyson pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa, shut down after 730 workers (58 percent of the plant's workforce) tested positive. New data from Johns Hopkins University shows that the virus spreads at more than twice the national rate in counties with major meatpacking plants. The United States now faces a meat shortage, a direct result of a broken food system – one that is built to reliably feed the bottom line of industrial agriculture at the expense of public health.
Despite the chaos, federal agencies’ responses seem to favor industry over worker and consumer health. In March, the Food and Drug Administration postponed in-person inspections at factories, canneries, and poultry farms, then in April gave a number …
On March 4, I joined community members and advocates from Assateague Coastal Trust, Center for a Livable Future, Environmental Integrity Project, Food and Water Watch, and NAACP to testify in favor of Maryland's House Bill 1312. The bill, introduced by Delegate Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County), would place a moratorium on permits for new or expanding concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) in the state. The legislation would apply to "industrial poultry operations," defined as operations that produce 300,000 or more broiler chickens per year. It was introduced with strong support from community members and environmental and public health advocates hoping to pump the brakes on the seemingly unmitigated growth of poultry CAFOs, especially on the Eastern Shore.
The environmental and public health harms from CAFOs are nothing new to Eastern Shore residents. As stated in CPR's testimony, the expansion of CAFOs on the Delmarva Peninsula is …
David Flores co-authored this post with Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper, an on-the-water advocate who patrols and protects the Maryland and northern Virginia Eastern Shore coastal bays and stands up to polluters.
Last month, former CPR policy analyst Evan Isaacson wrote in this space about Maryland's proposal to revise and reissue its Clean Water Act pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). He made a convincing case that those who love the Bay need to advocate for effective and enforceable CAFO regulations.
Traditionally, air pollution permits have been and will continue to be a critical component of climate policy in the United States, controlling emissions of greenhouse gas pollutants. But strong water pollution standards, including permits, are also a vital tool in addressing climate change because they are so important to state efforts to adapt.
Maryland's CAFO permit is what's described as a "general permit" because …
The many thousands of people in the Mid-Atlantic region who care deeply about restoring the Chesapeake Bay tend to be pretty knowledgeable about the causes of the Bay's woes and even some of the key policy solutions for restoring it to health. These concerned citizens may even be familiar with the term "TMDL," a legal concept within the Clean Water Act that is probably completely foreign to most of the rest of the country. But what even the most committed Bay advocates may not be aware of is that a TMDL (short for "Total Maximum Daily Load") is merely a plan, not an enforceable document, and certainly not a self-activating solution to the Bay's problems.
The key to giving effect to the Bay TMDL and the entire Chesapeake restoration framework lies in the mechanics of the Clean Water Act. Quite simply, the TMDL sets an overall …